Question:

Do you have any suggestions for students who chew on pencils, shirt, or other objects besides chewing gum? We offer chewy foods, oral motor exercises, and chewy tubes or necklaces. When these strategies do not work, would it still be considered a sensory modulation or regulation issue?

Answer:

If those strategies aren’t working, here are a couple of thoughts:

1. Try to determine whether there is a chewing pattern. For example, does it happen more often when the student is overwhelmed or bored? Consider whether there’s an increase during high task demand or the environment is too loud, and so on. It is possible the student is using chewing as a coping strategy rather than simply a need for oral input. By modifying the environment or task, you may be able to reduce the chewing.

2. Chewing may start out as an oral need and then become a habit. To address this, I recommend building oral input into the child’s day to ensure his needs are met. However, he continues to chew, I would treat it as a behavioral issue. An appropriate consequence would be requiring the student to clean the object he chewed. If it is . . .

  • a pencil or other object, he can wash it with soap and water.
  • his shirt, he could be required to change shirts and wash the chewed one in the sink. This would be appropriate in a special ed setting. If this is a regular ed setting, you could ask the parents to have him wash it out at home instead.

By using consequences like these, our goal would be to help the student break the habit by increasing his awareness of it through consistency and making the cleanup effort cause him to think twice before engaging in this behavior.

I hope this helps! Please keep me posted if you find a solution for these kids.

Best Wishes,
Gwen